Background: An increased risk of breast cancer for relatives of breast cancer patients has been demonstrated in many studies, and having a relative diagnosed with breast cancer at an early age is an indication for breast cancer screening. This indication has been derived from estimates based on data from cancer-prone families or from BRCA1/2 mutation families, and might be biased because BRCA1/2 mutations explain only a small proportion of the familial clustering of breast cancer. The aim of the current study was to determine the predictive value of a family history of cancer with regard to early onset of female breast cancer in a population based setting. Methods: An unselected sample of 1,987 women with and without breast cancer was studied with regard to the age of diagnosis of breast cancer. Results: The risk of early-onset breast cancer was increased when there were: (1) at least 2 cases of female breast cancer in first-degree relatives (yes/no; HR at age 30: 3.09; 95% CI: 128-7.44), (2) at least 2 cases of female breast cancer in first or second-degree relatives under the age of 50 (yes/no; HR at age 30: 3.36; 95% CI: 1.12-10.08), (3) at least 1 case of female breast cancer under the age of 40 in a first-or second-degree relative (yes/no; HR at age 30: 2.06; 95% CI: 0.83-5.12) and (4) any case of bilateral breast cancer (yes/no; HR at age 30: 3.47; 95%: 1.33-9.05). The positive predictive value of having 2 or more of these characteristics was 13% for breast cancer before the age of 70, 11% for breast cancer before the age of 50, and 1% for breast cancer before the age of 30. Conclusion: Applying family history related criteria in an unselected population could result in the screening of many women who will not develop breast cancer at an early age.